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19 May 2011

Illustrating the way to beat malnutrition

Ways of beating malnutrition in rural Uganda are explored in the work of an illustration student at Duncan of Jordansone College of Art and Design, to be exhibited at this year’s Dundee Degree Show.

Barbara Beek (22) spent last summer volunteering in the African country through the Development and Research Expedition (DARE) society at the University of Dundee, which DJCAD is part of. Barbara, who holds dual Belgian-US nationality, says she was profoundly influenced by her experiences of working with the charity ‘Little Big Africa’ in Uganda. As a result, these experiences have strongly informed her work, which will be displayed at this year’s Dundee Degree Show from 21st to 29th May.

Barbara’s designs explore, illustrate and develop design solutions that address socio economic issues in the Ugandan countryside. She has created a series of practical illustrations that encourage awareness and understanding of issues of health, hygiene and ecology, which are aimed primarily at children and women.

Barbara’s project draws together her experiences in Uganda, her research into the causes of malnutrition, and her belief that illustration can be a transformative and problem solving tool. Through her designs, she aims to encourage awareness, understanding and behaviour change. In particular, she is working to promote increased cultivation of a nutritionally rich tree called Moringa Oleifera.

As well as making work which aims to support self-reliance for the people living in rural Uganda she also wants to shift Western perceptions of the region and the issues faced by communities there.

'I strongly believe that illustration can be used to create solutions to problems and help change things for the better,' she said.

'There are two aspects of my work. The first is a series of design solutions concentrating on the problem of persistently high levels of malnutrition in children under the age of five and, in particular, raising awareness of the Moringa tree, which has amazing nutritional value and grows freely in Uganda.

'Despite this, most people aren’t aware of the properties of Moringa and how it can help to overcome malnutrition. My work aims to connect with women and children and help them discover how they can cultivate and use Moringa to feed their family and is done through three main ways.

'The first is a custom-designed exercise book to teach primary school children about the nutritional value of Moringa leaf powder. The second is a counting abacus designed to encourage mothers to use Moringa leaf powder in their children’s diet as a multi-nutritional supplement whilst helping monitor their children’s Recommended Daily Allowances (RDA). The third is a story-telling embroidery designed to teach rural communities how to propagate and cultivate the Moringa Oleifera tree.

'When I was working in Uganda I was teaching both adult and primary education, so these projects build on my experiences and my ideas of how to raise awareness of the importance of these trees.'

The second strand of Barbara’s work relate to infographics - graphic visual representations of information - that show the compound causes of malnutrition in Uganda, and aim to challenge common misconceptions about Uganda’s nutrition status.

Barbara has identified five factors contributing to persistently high levels of malnutrition in children in Uganda - poverty, food security, urbanization, health and education. She hopes by raising awareness of these factors, and how Moringa is a relatively simple method of mitigating their impact, she can help to alleviate the problems.

'The success of my work will be measured entirely by whether it helps to reduce levels of childhood malnutrition,' she continued. 'What I want to do is to target mothers and encourage them to keep track of children’s nutritional value, to consider RDA and how Moringa feeds into that.

'Moringa is something that can be grown in their backyards. It will not solve all the health problems in the country but it can go some way to making them easier to live with.

'As for what happens next, I would love to pursue the project and actually test whether these solutions really do work, and indeed to develop new ones. In order to do so, I hope to continue with my education and undertake a course specifically related to design for development to get a more comprehensive understanding of the field.

'In the meantime I definitely hope to continue working with NGOs to continue my personal research and to continue further my interest in developing communities.'

Almost 300 students from 11 disciplines are exhibiting at this year’s Dundee Degree Show.

Notes to editors:

Dundee Degree Show
21st - 29th May 2011 (Preview May 20th)

Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design
University of Dundee
13 Perth Road
Dundee DD1 4HT
T 01382 385330

Thursday, 19th May
Associates Reception and Preview (ticket-only) with Susan Philipsz and Alvy Ray Smith.

Alvy Ray Smith and Susan Philipsz will be attending the reception in DJCAD canteen from 6.30-7.30pm.

Friday, 20th May
Preview Night for family and friends of the exhibiting students.

Thousands of students, famil, friends and guest will be taking in one of the highlights of Dundee’s cultural calendar from 6-9pm.

Exhibition open:
Saturday, May 21st (10am-4pm)
Sunday, May 22nd (10am-4pm)
Monday, May 23rd (10am-8pm)
Tuesday, May 24th (10am-8pm)
Wednesday, May 25th (10am-8pm)
Thursday, May 26th (10am-8pm)
Friday, May 27th (10am-8pm)
Saturday, May 28th (10am-4pm)
Sunday, May 29th (10am-4pm)

Graduate work on display:
Art, Philosophy, Contemporary Practices
Digital Interaction Design
Fine Art
Graphic Design
Interior Environmental Design
Jewellery & Metal Design
Product Design
Textile Design
Time Based Art & Digital Film

For media enquiries contact:
Grant Hill
Press Officer
University of Dundee
Nethergate, Dundee, DD1 4HN
TEL: 01382 384768
MOBILE: 07854 953277